ountless gallons of ink have been spilled regarding a topic that has been under discussion over at the Musica Sacra Forums: How do we “convert” people to the Church’s way of thinking about sacred music? What is the most effective way to introduce to and educate the average Catholic in why our goals are so lofty?
Last week, I used an example from one of my friends in graduate school. When we were studying for comprehensive exams, he in political science and I in sacred music, we got together and explained major topics to one another, thinking that if we could explain the material to each other, we would have no trouble writing about it in an exam.
When I was running through the basic principle of “lex orandi, lex credendi,” (the law of prayer is the law of belief), he had yet another anecdote from his military experience to help clarify. He said, “if you tell a new recruit to make his bed, he’ll ask why. If you make him make his bed every day for three months, he’ll never ask again.” Some would call that brainwashing; I’ll call it formation. Something that becomes a part of your life needs no explanation. That principle brought me further in my understanding of reverent worship than any academic study ever did.
Before I entered school for sacred music, I just wanted to direct music in church. I was used to playing the piano, and I wanted to Revolutionize the World by introducing more instruments, like the saxophone, guitar, and drums, thinking, “That’s what the Church really needs.” I was speaking from my own experience. I loved playing the piano at Mass, and so that was what I thought needed to be done.
To be sure, I did plenty of study of the Church’s teaching on the liturgy, and her norms on music, but even as my views started to come around, my thinking was more along the lines of, “Chant and polyphony are beautiful, but are an unreachable pie-in-the-sky.” It wasn’t until I got into a parish and tried to use a piece of more solemn repertoire that I realized that not only was it possible, it was much more conducive to worship. A few years later, as I became more involved with the CMAA, I attended their Colloquium. Seeing other musicians that were dedicated to good music in liturgy energized me, and I tried even harder to reach for the next level. In short order, I had a small country parish with a Gregorian Chant schola, a choir that could sing polyphony surprisingly well for amateurs, and almost all of the propers, in some form, at every Mass. What happened?
Of course, as these things were implemented, I wrote small articles for the bulletin and gave explanations for what was happening. The most effective way for people to “get it,” though, was just by doing it. When people saw and heard the results, they were convinced. They had little use for technical explanations when they could just clearly experience the reverence.
There will be naysayers. They’ll be there no matter what approach you take. Winning the hearts and minds of those who will listen, though, is simpler than you think. The way to change the culture is not to shock them by changing everything at once, but little by little, just work it in. Do a piece here or there. Throw together a schola for an event that you have a lot of time to prepare. Do everything well. By the time you write a long article about why you’re doing what you’re doing, the people won’t even need it.
Make the bed. Most of the time, people won’t even need to ask why.